May 11, 2005
The Denver water system is a remarkable asset that currently serves the needs of over 1 million people within and outside of the City and County of Denver. Over the last several years, we have experienced extraordinary variability in weather and precipitation patterns - including in 2002 the driest single year we have ever experienced.
This period has presented significant challenges for the Denver water system and its customers. Despite its significant capacities and versatility, our system faced periods of considerable stress. In order to respond to these challenges, we have asked our customers to become more aware of their use of water and to do everything within their power to become more efficient users of water. The vast majority of our customers have responded positively to this request. Because of these efforts, we have seen unprecedented reductions in usage. This customer response has been the single most important factor in allowing us to respond effectively to the challenges presented by weather patterns over the last few years.
As we approached this spring, it was unclear even as recently as a month ago what circumstance we would face moving into the 2005 irrigation season. Fortunately, recent weather patterns have produced significant moisture, filling reservoirs and alleviating any short-term concerns about the adequacy of supply in storage.
The immediate public and media focus today is on what guidance we are providing to customers this summer. We are proposing a summer watering program for 2005 that makes mandatory the restriction on watering between 10:00 AM and 6:00 PM, adds over watering of landscape to the list of prohibited activities defined as water waste, assigns days per week for watering, provides instructions on efficient watering and provides other direction and assistance to our customers regarding their irrigation practices. All of these steps are taken with the goal of continuing the conservation gains our customers have achieved.
But in truth, the focus now needs to be on more than just what rules we put into place for this summer. We live in a semi-arid place and rely upon a water system fueled largely by spring snowmelt. If anything, available evidence suggests that our climate will continue to become more variable and potentially warmer, presenting more weather related challenges over the long haul. Our customers have shown that by and large they are inclined to be responsible, efficient users of water if they are given the proper tools, information, incentives and encouragement. Supporting the continuation of this trend should now be our focus. The more favorable weather this spring should not become an excuse for Denver Water to return to business as usual or an encouragement to our customers to return to their pre-2002 patterns of water use
We believe it is quite possible that a significant percentage of the water we have typically required could ultimately be eliminated from our normal pattern of consumption without significantly affecting our lifestyles, regional economy or even the aesthetics of our landscape. This direction should be our goal, not just in times of reduced precipitation, but always. But this outcome cannot be achieved overnight. Nor can it be achieved only through rules or short-term restrictions. To really reshape our pattern of water use will require a long-term commitment to engaging our customers and providing them with information, technology, best practices and programs that we do not currently provide. We will also back those efforts up with a regulatory context and rate structure that support these goals. And we will undertake cooperative programs with our distributors and those served under commercial and fixed amount contracts.
Our aim should be a regional consensus on this direction, one that we support and promote, but that also extends beyond the Denver system. If we are successful, a long term pattern of more efficient water use can be achieved and sustained. And this pattern can be sustained not only by rules, but through the creation of a culture and ethic that becomes a part of the fabric of the region. Increased efficiency in water use means that the supplies we do have can meet more needs, and that at least some of the consequences associated with obtaining additional supplies can be postponed or avoided altogether.
So while we put in place rules, guidance and support for this summer's irrigation season, there should be no mistaking the direction in which we will be heading going forward. We hope to provide the tools, resources and context over the next few years that will empower and support our customers to continue and even exceed the gains they have made recently in embracing more efficient water use. We believe this direction makes sense in all years, whether wet or dry.